11 Books For The Car Enthusiast In Your Life – Autopian Gift Guide

Gg Carbooks Top

It’s a myth that gearheads don’t read. Gearheads love to read and there’s been an enormous increase in books to appealing to the car lover over the last couple of years. Below is a list of books I recommend either for yourself or for someone you know that enjoys cars and a good book. Specifically, there are a lot of books here that explain the modern car industry.

[Ed note: This is one of our holiday gift guides, which is a service we’re doing to help everyone with their end-of-year shopping. This post also contains some affiliate links, which means we might get paid a commission if you buy something listed here or, usually, anything else on one of the sites. We won’t do this often, but it’s a way to support the site if you’re so inclined.]

Racing with Rich Energy: How a Rogue Sponsor Took Formula One for a Ride

Richenergy

A well-reported and often hilarious romp through the twists and turns of the Rich Energy saga in Formula 1, “Racing with Rich Energy” is a tale that’s so ridiculous it’s hard to believe it’s not fiction. The book was written by our pals Alanis King and Elizabeth Blackstock who dive deep into just how a guy with $770 in his pocket convinced the sport he could spend the millions of dollars necessary to prop up a new racing team. Whether you’re a long time F1 fan or just got into the sport because of “Drive to Survive,” the book is an excellent companion piece for even the most casual fan.

Where to buy: Amazon (paperback and Kindle)

A Quiet Greatness

Greatness

“A Quiet Greatness” is by far the most exquisite (and expensive) book on the list. Numbering over 1,300 pages of rare and glossy photos on heavy 100-lb art stock, this four-volume set about the history of Japanese cars is as much a work of art as some of the cars it covers. We had the authors Myron Vernis and Mark Brinker on our podcast and they go into all it took to make the book and why it’s so important. It’s $350 but it’s worth every penny and they’re only going to print a limited number so it’s a collector’s item.

Where to buy: Directly from the authors

Travels With Charley

Roci

John Steinbeck is one of the great American authors of the 20th century and there’s plenty of his fiction worth suggesting, but nothing quite captures the feeling of adventure and travel possible in this vast country like “Travels with Charley” does. Steinbeck and his dog Charley set out in his converted GMC camper (appropriately named Rocinante — see above pic of me with Roci at the Steinbeck Museum.) to find America. His quote about Texas is still my favorite: “For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.” Damn, that’s just good writing.

Where to buy: Amazon, or honestly just check it out from the library

Across The Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings

Airlesswilds

Cars… in space. Author Earl Swift is one of the keenest chroniclers of automotive history working right now and he brings a historian’s eye to his books (I can also recommend The Big Roads as probably the best modern take on the creation of the American interstate system you can read). I thought I had a good understanding of the history of NASA’s lunar rover until I read “Across the Airless Wilds” and realized how much I didn’t know about the crash program by Boeing and GM to build it. Almost as fascinating is the history of the Chrysler and Bendix proposals that didn’t make it.

Where to buy: Amazon (hardcover and Kindle)

Survival Of The Fastest: Weed, Speed, and the 1980s Drug Scandal That Shocked the Sports World

Surivalfastest

The story of Randy Lanier was first told by Patrick George at the old lighting site and it still captivates today. A gifted driver with an entrepreneurial spirit and a habit for trouble, Lanier was able to fund his racing dreams by smuggling weed into Florida. Drugs, race cars, speedboats. It’s basically a Michael Mann movie. The driver (with help from AJ Baime) recalls in “Survival of the Fastest” how he almost turned his drug business into a racing career and managed to become the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year before ending up facing a life sentence in a federal penitentiary. Lanier is not a trained writer but he is a natural storyteller and one who doesn’t spare his ego in admitting how he screwed up his life.

Where to buy: Amazon (hardcover and Kindle)

Robot Take The Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Last Art of Driving

RobottakewheelPlease excuse the nestling doll of plugs here, but I’d be remiss to not mention our Jason Torchinsky’s “Robot Take the Wheel” about what potential and pitfalls exist with self-driving cars. More than just a discussion about the technical realities of autonomous driving, Jason invites the reader to reconsider what these new machines mean for humanity and car culture. As a bonus, Beau wrote the forward!

Where to buy: Amazon (hardcover and Kindle)

Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans

Golikehell

If you’ve seen “Ford vs. Ferrari” you have seen a fairly good retelling of the spirit of Ford’s battle with Enzo Ferrari. I am pro-movie. However, the movie isn’t as good or as accurate as the book on which it is based (though Tracy Letts is perfect as Henry Ford II). Journalist and writer A.J. Baime is our most prolific automotive storyteller and it doesn’t get much better than “Go Like Hell.” In particular, the book does a great job of explaining why Ken Miles is a hero and doesn’t do Leo Beebe dirty (as the film does).

Where to buy: Amazon (all formats)

Boundless: The Rise, Fall, and Escape of Carlos Ghosn

Boundlessbook

Here are how most automotive CEO books go: Adversity, spark of genius, profits, car, adversity, spark of genius, car, boring family aside, profits. “Boundless: The Rise, Fall, and Escape of Carlos Ghosh” tells the story of the infamous Nissan-Renault executive and features about 100% more Japanese prisons, green berets, manga, and daring escapes (take that Lee Iacocca’s autobiography!). This book was written by the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Kostov and Sean McClain and it’ll soon show up on Apple TV. Read it before it does!

Where to buy: Amazon (hardcover and Kindle)

Road To Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About The Future Of Transportation

Parixmarx

This book was suggested by our pal Zack Klapman, who just finished it and says it gives a great look at how Bird’s scooters quickly became too broken to use and how the whole micromobility push over the last few years was built on questionable assumptions. I’m looking forward to reading this one, as well.

Where to buy: Amazon (hardcover and Kindle)

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip

Truman

I love nonfiction books and I love nonfiction books about Harry Truman (I could literally do a gift guide that is just books about Harry Truman). The best book about Harry Truman is definitely David McCullough’s Pulitzer-winning “Truman.” The funniest book about Harry Truman, though? That honor goes to Matthew Algeo’s “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure.” Algeo captures what happened when Harry and Bess Truman decided to buy a Chrysler and drive across the country to see some of their friends. It’s completely unfathomable today and was mostly unfathomable at the time (especially to the Secret Service, which was quite surprised by the trip and had to scramble to keep the Trumans safe). It is the unlikeliest of stories and represents a brief moment in time where this was possible.

Where to buy: Amazon (all formats)

Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors

Ludbook

There’s no shortage of books/tv segments/podcasts/stories about the genius of Elon Musk. As may have become clear to you recently, Musk is not perfect. Edward Niedermeyer’s book “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors” has gotten a lot more attention lately as Musk contends with his purchase of Twitter. If you want to hear about how Tesla came about in a book that actually mentions Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning it’s worth picking up.

Where to buy: Amazon (hardcover, paperback and Kindle)

Photo credits: Amazon, Nissan, Tesla

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39 Responses

  1. Nothing at all in here about Arrogance And Accords?

    I’d recommend that title, as well as The Reckoning by David Halberstam. Published in 1986, it’s a little behind the times now, but it’s a terrific history of Ford and Nissan especially during the sixties and seventies.

  2. Any list of car books is totally incomplete without the best one of all.
    Best Damn Garage in Town: My Life & Adventures by Smokey Yunick.

    I have a lot of good memories from working at Dan Gurney’s All American Racer. One of the best is for the 2 weeks I was kind of Smokey’s gopher when he came out to Santa Ana to fit his engine in the Indy Eagle he bought.

    1. Smokey’s book may be The Worst Damn Book Ever Written. But I couldn’t put it down, have re-read it a couple of times, and have recommended it to several Car People as a must-have.

      It’s like sitting down with Smokey and encouraging him to carry on. Rambling, yes, repetitive for sure, but always fascinating and, despite what may be some exaggerations and/or evasions, an honest look at the man.

      It’s 600 pages. A good editor could have cut it to half-size, but if Smokey had gone into more detail in some of the more fascinating areas, it could easily have been 1000 pages in edited form.

  3. I agree with “Go Like Hell”. I don’t even care about racing history but it’s a great read. Another one is “Thinking Small: The Long Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle” by Andrea Hiott (sorry…I don’t know how to link). Not repetitive like other “making of” stories and fairly compelling.

  4. If anyone’s interested in a wonderful philosophical examination of what cars, bikes, and piloting/maintaining them can mean to us as humans, highly recommend Matthew Crawford’s “Why We Drive (toward a philosophy of the open road).”

    It surveys a lot of the negative stuff we often discuss here (autonomous cars, distracted driving, etc.) but also highlights the simple yet profound pleasure of interacting with our vehicles.

    He’s got a very engaging writing style and more than anything, he gives you things to think further about yourself.

  5. Today I learned that the ship from the Expanse was named after Don Quixote’s horse. Just finished watching the show in the last year and I wish I had remembered/knew that that is where the name came from (to be fair it’s been around 40 years since I’ve read the book). I may have to request a copy of “Travels with Charley” to see how Steinbeck made the connection.

  6. Were I looking for a book to buy for David Tracy, I would look at “Jeep: The History of America’s Greatest Vehicle” by Patrick Foster. The first half of the book details the history of the Jeep, which is well done. The second half recites models of we know as CJ, YJ, TJ, JK and so on. My family bought this for me a few years ago and I still thumb through it, as I think any jeep person would.

    It would be interesting to embed a journalist inside of a car company to capture what it takes to create a new model. Sort of like Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine.” Are there any books like that focused on an automobile?

  7. I love “Travels with Charley”: it has been too long since I last read it. The problem is that every time I read it I want to hit the road and that just isn’t practical anymore. The Steinbeck museum is well done and worth a visit if you are ever in the area.
    For demonstrations of Steinbeck’s skill you still can’t beat the opening paragraph of “Cannery Row”

    “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink,
    a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia,
    a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin
    and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement
    and weedy lots and junk-heaps, sardine canneries of corru-
    gated iron, honky-tonks, restaurants and whore-houses, and
    little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flop-houses. Its
    inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps,
    gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Every-
    body. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he
    might have said : “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy
    men,” and he would have meant the same thing.”

  8. One you missed is Truck: On Rebuilding a Worn-Out Pickup and Other Post-Technological Adventures by John Jerome. I love it because he really captures the weird head space you can get into when endlessly cleaning, disassembling, and reassembling sub-assemblies. Literally read the first copy to pieces, and have given away at least four more.

    Named my first Type 2 Westfalia Rocinante because of Steinbeck: who doesn’t like tilting at windmills?

    1. Great to see that book recommended here! Indeed a regrettable omission from this list though it may be out of print but used copies should be readily available; hopefully there’ll be enough interest to warrant bringing it back into print. Gotta find my own copy & re-read it, it’s been a few years since I last read it. Even non-gearhead friends have enjoyed it which is saying something given how much of a gearhead book it can be at times. One doesn’t have to be a gearhead to find it interesting to read about how driving the first few miles of the day in the depths of a New Hampshire winter can be awfully bumpy due to the tires having frozen and retained flat spots until they’ve warmed up, for instance. And there’s something fascinating about what it’s like to have to get a fire going in the woodstove before one can even start working on the eponymous truck. Even though the book was written nearly 50 years ago much, if not most, of the ruminations about technology still holds true plus there’s a good streak of humor throughout the book so it’s eminently worthy of being added to the list.

    2. Thank you! I’ve read this book many times and given my paperback version (With is egregious photo of a red Chevrolet on the cover) while buying a hardback with the correct blue Dodge on the cover.
      Like Collegiate Autodidact states, it’s out of print, but still easy enough to find on Amazon and EBay.

  9. Rich Taylor’s Modern Classic’s. I have to admit I liked the writing style more the first time I read it when I was somewhere in my teens, it is a great rundown of pretty much all the cool sports and sports racing cars of the 50s and 60s if you are into that kind of thing (I am).

    Interesting list, many not what I would think of as car books, but just books where cars play a prominent role. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  10. Jupiter’s Travels-Ted Simon An amazing travelogue from a guy who circumnavigated the world on a TRIUMPH motorcycle in 1979

    The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit- Michael Cannell The real “drive to survive” story

    Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us–by Tom Vanderbilt A fascinating dissection of what driving is and how we do it.

  11. I just finished Survival Of The Fastest and was surprised to see a callout at the end to a Facebook friend of mine I know through the 24 Hours of Lemons racing community. Didn’t realize that the author of the book got back into motorsports that way.

  12. Matt strikes me as the adult in the Autopian room, just as passionate as the crazies (who shall not be named), but a bit more quietly thoughtful and conventionally cultured. Thank you for the list. I just bought 3 more books.

    I hope to meet all of the crew at some point in the future. I promise to drive something weird.

    1. So adult, in matter of fact, that I am passing up on all of these – I need more obscurity and was hoping for a book on Glas thanks to the illustration. I did, however, recently buy “Axel & Oltcit, les Citroën de l’Est” by Thijs van der Zanden and a Brazilian book on the Chevrolet Opala. Highly recommended!

      1. I recently got a copy of Giovanni Lurani’s biography of Nuvolari. That and Rudi Caracciola’s “A Racing Car Driver’s World” are must-haves, and I’m glad to have them in my now vastly-reduced automotive library.

        I’ve read a couple of the books listed in the article, and didn’t keep either. Tastes vary, I guess.

        But any list that doesn’t include Tom McCahill’s “The Modern Sports Car” — like just about all my books, long out-of-print — is woefully incomplete.

        1. I have Neubauer’s and Caracciola’s books, might have to add the Nuvolari one. For a different flavor altogether I can recommend “1000 Days in Shanghai” by Martin Posth, about the beginnings of the FAW-VW joint venture.

        1. That book was published in my hometown by University of Nebraska Press. For years there was always a stack of them in the automotive section of every bookstore in town.

          Never picked one up though, may have to check it out.

  13. Ah yes, James Joyce’s “Car Crap”. One of my all time favorites, and one of Torch’s as well apparently.

    Who can forget his description of the nascent used car salesman?

    “Of course, the investment was a good one and Segouin had managed to give the impression that it was by a favour of friendship the mite of Irish money was to be included in the capital of the concern. Jimmy had a respect for his father’s shrewdness in business matters and in this case it had been his father who had first suggested the investment; money to be made in the motor business, pots of money. Moreover Segouin had the unmistakable air of wealth. Jimmy set out to translate into days’ work that lordly car in which he sat. How smoothly it ran. In what style they had come careering along the country roads! The journey laid a magical finger on the genuine pulse of life and gallantly the machinery of human nerves strove to answer the bounding courses of the swift blue animal.”

  14. Goes Like Hell was super good and I recommend it all the time. I would also recommend Press On Regardless by Andrew Layton, it’s the history of the toughest rally in the United States held in Michigan and would often span dirt roads from Detroit (South-East Lower Peninsula) all the way to Marquette (Mid-North Upper Peninsula).

  15. The Truman book looks like a lot of fun. I’m reading (and can’t recommend highly enough) Miles Collier’s “The Archaeological Automobile”. It’s a fascinating read that discusses topics such as restoration vs. preservation and how to interpret and preserve the rare/collectible automobile as a cultural artefact as opposed to just a piece of machinery.

  16. Some good choices there Matt! I dont spend money of books anymore but ‘A quite greatness” looks tempting.
    And while here i cant not comment on the Ford/Ferrari movie.It has some awesome scenes and moments but the extent to which it butchered the story was ridiculous.Trying to make it all about one person was so stupid it’s offensive.It’s like they took a grand story and made it into a cheap soap opera.

    R/-
    Dont mind me.Carry on

    1. I like “Riding Man” by Mark Gardiner. Great first-person account of an everyday guy who decides he’s going to compete in the Isle of Man tt.

      He then moves to the island and spends a year getting ready, learning the course by riding a bicycle on it for months, lining up his ride, etc. all with a goal of simply not coming in last.

      It’s really enjoyable, and makes something pretty damn hard seem actually obtainable.

      1. I lean towards the Long Distance riding books. Hopeless class, Against the Wind, The Man who would stop at nothing. All these books have to do with the Iron Butt Rally. Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider is one on my list too.

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